4 Things Francis Schaeffer Taught Me about Faith and Doubt

by Tyler Smith

Like all freshman at my little Bible college, I took a course called Philosophy and Christian Worldview. I learned a lot from the professor, but most of what I gleaned came from watching the flickering images of a goateed man wearing knickers, projected onto a ripped screen in the college auditorium.

A version of this story could be recounted by scores of Bible college and seminary students since the late seventies. The name of the film was How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. The man in knickers was Presbyterian pastor and apologist Francis Schaeffer.

Schaeffer died the year I was born, but like many Christians my age, his work has made an enormous impact on the way I think about the Christian faith, culture, and what it means to be a rational person.

To mark today, the great apologist’s birthday, here are four lessons Francis Schaeffer taught me about faith, doubt, art, and culture.

Art and culture are spiritually significant

In How Should We Then Live?, Schaeffer evaluates numerous pieces of art and music—from Michelangelo’s David to the bizarre, randomized compositions of avant-garde composer John Cage. Along the way, he demonstrates how the worldviews of those artists and musicians are expressed (or undermined) by their masterpieces.

I was an eighteen-year-old Christian who came to Bible college because he was afraid he couldn’t make it in art school. Already I was feeling the pull of two vocations. On one side, I heard the call of ministry; on the other, a life of creativity beckoned like a siren.

Prior to encountering Schaeffer, I considered those two callings diametrically opposed. My theology was robust enough to know there was nothing unchristian about music, art, poetry, and fiction—and yet . . .

Schaeffer blew the lid off of any notion that the “spiritual” was more important than the artistic or cultural. In fact, he demonstrated that the artistic and cultural arenas could be—indeed, must be—positively Christian. The film series How Should We Then Live?—and the many other Schaeffer books I subsequently devoured—convinced me that, for better or worse, the output of culture was itself spiritual…

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